How to Create a Consumer-Facing Brand, According to Harvard Business Publishing CEO David Wan
Harvard Business Publishing is a unique press in the fact that it manages both book acquisition and publishing as well as a popular magazine brand, the Harvard Business Review. The combination of the two has allowed Harvard Business Publishing to develop a strong, recognizable consumer brand that now spans events, ebooks, HBR.org, and more. Its digital assets, especially HBR.org, allow the book publisher to learn more about its audience and actually develop book ideas based on reader interest.
But this wasn't always the case, notes CEO and president David Wan in an interview with Book Business. It wasn't until 2010 when Harvard Business Publishing combined its siloed assets -- a book publishing arm, a magazine, an under-utilized website, and a slew of newsletters -- that it was able to create a consumer-facing publishing brand and significantly expand its audience.
Wan will share the reasoning behind the strategy change and its results at the Yale Publishing Course (YPC) in July. The course gathers a diverse faculty of book industry leaders to share forward-looking strategies with industry peers. You can learn more about the program details and registration here. Following Wan shares a sneak peak of his YPC session.
How did you unite the different content brands at Harvard Business Publishing?
What really sparked the initiative, which began in 2010, was bringing on board a couple of new leaders to the HBR family. Adi Ignatius, former editor of Time Asia, became our editor-in-chief and Joshua Macht, also from Time, joined as publisher. At that point I decided we should integrate all of those siloes and create a unified Harvard Business Review group so that all the editorial and content development would be reporting to one editor-in-chief and all of the commercial and business aspects would report under a group publisher.
That was the easy part. What it really involved was integrating the editorial work that is done with this notion that Adi coined, "From blog to book." What that meant was that instead of our editors waiting for book proposals to come to them, they would seek out new ideas from various new voices. Then using the redesigned website, those new authors could create content in shorter form, letting us and the author test some of those early ideas and research with an audience, get some feedback, and develop the idea further. If the idea or concept has traction, then it might develop into a long form article for the magazine and eventually a book.
They don't all have to follow that complete cycle but we're trying to create more of an ecosystem for our authors and our readers. That was the most important aspect of the integration.
Has this new strategy significantly grown audience?
Our website got about 250,000 unique visitors a month prior to the relaunch. Not long after the site was relaunched, it went up significantly to 3 million unique visitors a month. That shorter, digital-only content helped us engage a larger audience. It was a whole editorial philosophy that Adi led. The content in the Havard Business Review and its books always had a lot of rigor to it. They are all almost expert written. All are based on research of important academics and practitioners. But the ideas weren't always presented in a way that seemed relevant or timely. The website gave us the ability to do that.
What advice do you have for book publishers that are creating consumer-facing websites?
We have the benefit of having multiple publications. Because we have a magazine and digital-only content and of course books and other publications, we have the advantage of having multiple platforms that we can integrate around our website. But just within our book publishing, we found a few things. We found social media to be a very important part of building an audience. A lot of our traffic comes through social. We have about 2 million followers on Twitter, 1.7 million likes on Facebook, and 1 million members on LinkedIn. In fact, we're probably the most shared content on LinkedIn.
You want to build this community where people share ideas and provide perspectives on the content they're reading. I think that creates more engagement and fuels the relationship that publishers can have with their audience. It isn't just a website, it's the website and social which turbo-charges engagement.